A Kennewick drop-in center for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered youth and their allies is closing its doors -- at least for the time being -- citing financial difficulties.
The board of Vista Youth Center made the decision this week to suspend operations, confirmed Heather Hill, a longtime board member.
The center's director, who was the only paid employee, was laid off, and youth were to be notified Friday.
"It was a very painful decision to make," Hill told the Herald. "We're all very sad. It's very painful."
She didn't go into details about the center's finances, but said "it became obvious we couldn't meet our obligations, therefore we needed to suspend operations." The center has received small grants through the years but relies primarily on donations.
"A lot of nonprofits are going through tough times, just like us. When there are economic difficulties within a community, people are not able to give as they have in the past," Hill said. "From what I understand talking to other nonprofits, they're experiencing similar situations where gift-giving is decreasing."
She said the nonprofit's board plans to meet next week to talk about next steps. There's been some conversation with leaders of a local church about using the church facility, and that's likely to be part of the board's discussion, Hill said.
The youth center, on West Bruneau Place, reached its six-year anniversary about a month ago. It primarily serves youth 14 to 21, opening its doors several days a week. Hill said anywhere from six to 30 youths drop by on a typical night.
In late February 2007, a few days before Vista was set to open, one gay teen told the Herald he envisioned the center as much-needed place where LGBT youth could come to feel safe. "I know when I first came out, I felt like I had no place to go," he said.
Mark Lee, who founded Vista and ran it for several years as a volunteer, said it no doubt has made an impact in the Tri-Cities, helping "create an environment of acceptance that's growing."
He'd be "incredibly sad" if it ceased operating for good and hopes the nonprofit's board will be able to regroup and reopen the center, he told the Herald.
Hill said Vista leaders know there's a need.
"There are a lot of youth out there who have benefited from coming to the center," she said. "Just because the operations have been suspended, doesn't mean the need has gone away."